Your texts and chats can be used against you.
In a criminal case or a lawsuit, the government or the other side could demand to see your messages to friends, family, coworkers, and others and use them as evidence against you. Screenshots of texts and chats show up in court papers all the time.
The legal process of demanding information or evidence from the other side in a lawsuit is called “discovery.” Hiding, deleting, or even just failing to hold onto relevant information or evidence can lead to big legal consequences. Pretending a message was never sent, or trying to delete it on your phone after someone asks for it, can do you way more harm than good.
Even outside the legal system, people who want to use the law against you might try to use your texts and chats, as well. Messages about illegal activities could be used to blackmail you. Sending messages in your name can be used to impersonate you and access important accounts, like bank accounts. Seniors who rely on others for help with text, e-mail, or phone can have messages filtered, deleted, or forged.
Ask before texting or chat-messaging your lawyer.
When working with a lawyer, ask them about how to share documents, photos, and other information before you send anything. You don’t want to pay for a bunch of lawyer time for figuring out how to back up, export, or handle your messages. You don’t want them losing track of information they weren’t expecting to get through text or chat.
Lawyers usually work for more than one client. They need to keep files organized to do good work and keep bills down. Texts and chats are often easier to send but more difficult to save and file. Many lawyers will work better and faster with e-mails, phone calls, and even physical copies.
Some lawyers will use texts and chats, but only for little things like scheduling phone calls and meetings. If you get texts like this from your lawyer, don’t take that as a sign that you should send important messages, documents, or photos that way, too.
Texts and chats aren’t always secure.
If you ever suspect that someone has accessed your phone, tablet, or computer, snooped on your texts, or hacked copies of your messages, tell your lawyer immediately!
The law usually protects you from having conversations with your lawyers about your legal situation used against you in court. That includes texts and chats. However, the government or the other side in a lawsuit might still try to snoop on your conversations to learn things they can use against you, or even what your legal strategy will be.
Apps and services for texting and chatting vary a lot in how secure they are. Many services save copies of your messages, which might be hacked. Others provide strong security, but only if you choose the right settings. The authors of this page generally recommend Signal for secure text messaging and encrypted phone calls, since it uses very secure settings by default. We recommend that you install Signal on your phone and set it up before you know you need it.
This page was last updated June 7, 2022.
In March 2022, three attorneys—Kyle E. Mitchell, Matthew Olsman, and Noel “Kaison” Lawrence—met at an Alameda County Bar Association tech meeting. They decided to create and share this guide to help their clients and the public understand key points about texting, chatting, and the law.